The Significance of the Anniversary of Bhutto’s Death, April 4th 1979

For the last thirty-five years the anniversary of Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s brutal murder by the vicious Zia regime has been commemorated with reverence and a big gathering of the workers and PPP leaders at his tomb in Ghari Khudabaksh near Larkana. However the essence and message of this commemoration has been altered and manipulated by the subsequent leaders. Today it barely resembles the PPP's founding programme, its goals, destiny or the fervour, passion and commitment to take on the oppressive system and its repressive state.

Activists and youth of the working masses have historically congregated at Bhutto’s final resting place by defying all odds and transforming the anniversary into a festival of ideas, unity of purpose and struggle against oppression. There has been a desire to learn the lessons behind the military coup, the unleashing of a vicious dictatorship and Bhutto’s assassination. More importantly was the desire to reconnect with the original ideas and programme of the party. By the mid '80s even the masses were beginning to question the prevailing state setup, its ideology and its crippling oppressive system.

The return of Benazir Bhutto from exile in 1986 opened the floodgates, turning the streets of Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi into a sea of people. This mass upsurge on the streets was not just about defeating military dictatorship and restoring capitalist democracy, but a genuine revolt against the prevailing misery within the Capitalist system.  The state and the elite were forced to embrace Benazir and the PPP which consequently derailed the movement. Benazir was installed as a weak Prime Minister whilst Zia’s cronies maintained crucial positions, and calling the shots in foreign policy, security, and other important areas of governance. This was the beginning of Benazir and the PPP’s policy of reconciliation and capitulation to the state, its system and US imperialism. Compromise with the capitalist system and imperialism started to replace the socialist and revolutionary origins of the party.

In a TV interview in 1993 Benazir said, “ideology has now taken a back seat”; and when ideology takes a back seat the front seats are taken over by opportunism, corruption and lust for power and money. The PPP under Benazir continued to drift to the right. Policies like privatisation, Public Private Partnership and the accommodation of imperialists, took over the party. The gates were opened up to the capitalists and landlords. The party hierarchy became the refuge of business dealers and agents of corporate capital. Most of the party activity was based on business covenants, financial favours and the awarding of contracts. This process of personal gain and greed seeped to the lower ranks of the party. The rich and the mighty bought and bribed their way up into the higher echelons of the party, which now had hardly any internal democratic structures or practises.

With the abandonment of the party’s ideological foundations, of political debates and of ideological discussions to formulate party policies, the leadership succeeded in transforming the party in its own image. Socialism, the cornerstone of the party’s birth and meteoric rise, became a forbidden word. in the party To execute this line the leadership began to erase the legacy of the 1968-69 revolution - which gave birth to the PPP - and the lessons learned by Bhutto in his death cell. Bhutto's policies of nationalism, that he had advocated as foreign minister under the Ayub regime, and those he adopted after coming to power in the clutches of the bourgeois state, were instead taken up. These included the Islamic conference, the nuclear programme and even his actions at the behest of the military operation in Baluchistan. These were not the policies the masses had turned to the PPP and Bhutto for, but those that had repulsed them in the first place.

The radical positions that Bhutto had taken as a consequence of the '68-69 revolution were expunged from the party’s programme and documents. The sayings taken from Bhutto's last testament "If I am assassinated", were even forbidden to circulate the party. The lessons of his life and death, written in his book, such as “class struggle is irreconcilable”, and (his conclusion) that the only way out of the crisis facing society was “the victory of one class over another”, were eliminated and even ridiculed. Instead of a mass leader with a revolutionary socialist programme, Bhutto has been turned into some kind of saint or Sufi; his memory and personality mystified by religious overtones. Today his anniversary is commemorated more as an urs of a pir (Annual anniversary of mystic and religious saints), rather than a politician who was propelled to challenge the state and the system with a radical position.

This is the greatest injustice to a man who was modern and claimed to believe in socialism. This drift to the right by his heirs has not just badly damaged the party, as is clear from its current dire state; it is also endangering the very survival of the PPP as a tradition of the oppressed in Pakistan. The irony for the masses is that they did not have an alternative to the PPP while this degeneration was going on. They still do not have one. But there is heightened disillusionment in its support base. With the continuum of successive leaders capitulating to the system and devastating the society, the masses are yearning for an alternative. However, mass alternatives do not spring up instantaneously. There are specific periods of revolutionary ferment when new mass traditions develop. Such periods are historical exceptions and not daily occurrences. But their eruption do come. This is the law of society and history. And here it may come sooner rather than later. In normal times, masses do converge into their political traditions in elections and other political mass events. But in extraordinary times of mass upheavals and revolts, they can transform their traditions into instruments of revolution or create new ones. Such stormy events are on the horizon. The challenge for the honest and the genuine political activists of the new generations is to prepare for such volcanic eruptions in society, to redeem the struggle their ancestors had started in 1968-69. That is the real essence of the April 4th anniversary and would be the real revenge for the fatal blow of the counter revolution by the imperialist stooge Zia ul Haq.